The Washington Post editorialized in November that it was time to regulate how much sugar Americans consume. Sugar causes obesity, which leads to heart disease and diabetes. Government has to pick up much of the tab for treatment, which justifies the feds putting themselves between consumers and the sugar bowl.
But how to actually regulate sugar? Try to fix some limit on serving sizes? Require soda-makers to de-sweeten pop? Such command and control options would no doubt be hamfisted. And so the Post suggested the all-purpose solution: new taxes. (Never mind that Washington already dramatically inflates sugar costs through a tangled program of price supports and import controls.Read more
The Little Sisters of the Poor are headed to the Supreme Court this year, seeking escape from the contraception mandates of Obamacare—under which they fall, the government claims, as insurance providers for the employees in their nursing homes. The Justice Department is fighting the Little Sisters tooth and nail, determined not to allow them to evade the law's requirements, because . . . because . . .
Um, in truth, the Obama administration has never made entirely clear why it's so desperate to rope nuns into bureaucratic schemes for providing contraception. After all, the administration has let other organizations slip through the cracks.Read more
In his final State of the Union, President Obama declared his belief that "a thriving private sector is the lifeblood of our economy," which he paired with the assertion that "there are outdated regulations that need to be changed and there’s red tape that needs to be cut."
Hearing these words was less a cause to cheer than a depressing reminder of the road not taken. Obama arrived in office as a self-proclaimed reformer who aimed to go big in public policy. Tinkering with broken systems was futile; systemic reforms were needed. Health care, for example, needed to be reinvented entirely. Obama spoke as a progressive technocrat who wanted to pursue smartly designed post-partisan policies.Read more
Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, a rookie who ranks 99th in seniority, gave his maiden speech on the Senate floor in November. Normally, senators use such speeches to discuss why this or that legislation is needed. Sasse, a former college president and a historian by training (Yale Ph.D.) who has taught public policy (at the University of Texas), didn’t do that. Instead, he addressed the institutional decline of Congress.
The speech was well received in the Senate, and the news coverage was generally positive. Oddly, however, the media failed to observe that Sasse promised a series of floor speeches on the growth of the administrative state and "executive branch legislating."
The importance of this topic isRead more
Senator Jeff Sessions is worried that the adoption of the Trans-Pacific Partnership would lead to an "historic international regulatory Commission" that would eoncmpass 90 percent of the world's GDP. He's concerned that it would "[create] a self-governing and self-perpetuating Commission with extraordinary implications for American workers and American sovereignty."Read more
Hillary Clinton took a strong position in support of so-called net neutrality in an appearance yesterday evening in Silicon Valley:
"For the FCC to do what they want to do, to try to create net neutrality as the norm, they have to have a hook to hang it on," Clinton said. She said it's the only hook the FCC's got. But that'd she'd vote for regulating the Internet.Read more
Republican senators Mike Lee, Ben Sasse, and Rand Paul have all been high profile opponents of the Obama administrations current plan to regulate the internet -- in particular, Lee has called the regulation a government "takeover" of the internet and says it amounts to a "a massive tax increase on the middle class, being passed in the dead of night without the American public really being made aware of what is going on.”Read more
Mary Cheh, who represents a leafy, affluent, embassy-filled section of Washington, doesn’t fit anyone’s image of a free-market reformer. A member of the D.C. Council since 2007, the sixty-something’s dress and manner are those of the Harvard-educated law professor she is. Many of her legislative priorities—free breakfast programs and green energy—could come from the playbook of any urban progressive.Read more
What difference will it make if the Republicans win the Senate and hold the House in November? The House can already block Democratic legislation Republicans do not like, and President Obama would still be able to veto Republican legislation he does not like. The Republicans are talking of a positive, problem-solving agenda.Read more
Celebrating a fourth birthday and growing nicely. That’s the story of the Dodd-Frank law, designed to end a “too big to fail” banking system that forced taxpayers to bail out bankers who took not only their own banks but the entire financial system to the verge of collapse, and brought on a record recession. Dodd-Frank, which weighed in at over 2,000 pages at birth, has since put on 14,000 pages of implementing regulations, with more to come.Read more
Conflate two separate issues and you get one policy error. That is what too many opponents of carbon taxes are doing, getting caught up in the argument about climate change, which really has nothing to do with the case for a carbon tax. That case is that such a tax can make growth-inducing tax reform easier to achieve, and reduce the need for an expansion of the regulatory state, while protecting the competitiveness of our industries.Read more
Yesterday, the Virginia DMV sent cease and desist letters to popular ridesharing services Uber and Lyft. In neighboring D.C., Uber has run into trouble with regulatory officials multiple times, but this latest move is surprising because Virginia generally has a much more sane regulatory environment.Read more
"The dinosaurs surviving the crunch” was how Stephen Sondheim described women living an outdated lifestyle and grimly aware that “everybody dies.” If Sondheim had the slightest interest in the less exalted subject of economics, he would apply that descriptive to a host of companies and industries trying to beat the hooded man with a scythe, aided by their regulators.Read more
The Scrapbook neglected to follow its usual practice last week and had a look at the reader comments under an online New York Times article. The Times piece covered the growing popularity of so-called electronic cigarettes (which Ethan Epstein chronicled in these pages a few weeks back), noting that people are increasingly using the devices in public places like restaurants and bars. Unlike real cigarettes, e-cigs don’t contain tobacco and don’t emit carcinogenic smoke—they only expel water vapor—so they don’t cause any harm to nonusers.Read more
The antitrust lawyers I have served as a consultant often have the same complaint: Their clients don’t know when to shut up. This was certainly true of the executives of US Airways and American Airlines as they touted the virtues of their proposed $11 billion merger. US Airways president Scott Kirby reportedly said consolidation allows airlines to raise fees and charge for baggage, and the company’s CEO, Doug Parker spoke of the virtues of “rationalization,” which antitrust enforcers have always taken to mean higher prices and consumer harm. Now that the Justice Department has decided to sue to stop the merger, the airlines’ lawyers say these comments are taken out of context.Read more
Even if you're Warren Buffett--billionaire investor, founder of Berkshire Hathaway, and Democratic donor--it helps to have friends in high places. Through his holding company MidAmerican Energy, Buffett is currently atttempting to purchase NV Energy, a Nevada-based energy firm, and he's getting some big help from that state's senior U.S. senator, Majority Leader Harry Reid.Read more
While not exactly a national monument, the north entrance to the Dupont Circle Metro stop in downtown Washington, D.C., is a pretty impressive edifice. A large circular granite wall is inscribed with a portion of Walt Whitman’s poem “The Wound-Dresser,” which you can ponder as you slowly descend the 188-foot escalator that takes you to the train underground. The escalators are encased on both sides by sloping concrete blocks with planters interspersed.Read more
When Prohibition ended in 1933, Pennsylvania governor Gifford Pinchot promised to make purchasing alcohol “as inconvenient and expensive as possible.” To this day, Pennsylvania has some of the most stringent—and absurd—liquor laws in the country. Beer and wine can’t be sold in grocery stores, and you can only purchase six-packs of beer at delis or under the counter at bars and taverns, and no more than two six-packs can be purchased at a time.Read more
At a Democratic fundraiser in Palo Alto, California, President Barack Obama described himself as a common sense Democrat.Read more
Report: 2012 Regulatory Rules More Costly than All Rules in 'Entire First Terms of Presidents Bush and Clinton, Combined'
As Adam White discusses in detail, there’s nothing moderate or incremental about the increase in federal regulations — and hence in centralized executive power — under President Obama. To the contrary (as White notes), according to figures published by the Obama White House (see table 2-1), the costs of regulations issued by this administration have dwarfed the costs of regulations issued by prior administrations.Read more
In the Washington Post, Robert Samuelson highlights how Obamacare would needlessly complicate our society, make it more maddeningly litigious, give the I.R.S. more prominence, and make it harder for workers to get employers to give them so much as 30 hours a week.Read more
A few years ago, the Environmental Protection Agency lost a string of high-profile lawsuits brought by environmentalists challenging the Bush administration's regulations. And in certain circles, it was fashionable to cite those as proof of the Bush EPA's incompetence if not its utter corruption.Read more
[A] regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency, explained in 2010 that he understands the EPA policy to be to "crucify" a few oil and gas companies to get the rest of the industry to comply with the laws.Read more
"Independent agencies" occupy an odd corner of American government. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, National Labor Relations Board, Federal Communications Commission, and others are nominally "independent" of the president's control—usually thanks to limits on the president's power to fire the agencies' leaders—and thus enjoy seemingly unlimited discretion to regulate American industry.Read more
Last week, a federal judge in Washington issued a truly extraordinary opinion. Judge Janice Rogers Brown, of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, went out of her way to challenge one of bedrock achievements of the 20th Century liberal legal establishment: the de-emphasis of economic rights, relative to other "fundamental rights," as a matter of constitutional law. Judge Brown's opinion already has sparked controversy, and it deserves closer scrutiny.Read more
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